SHIMLA, being the summer capital of India, had witnessed several literary festivals before independence.
A galaxy of writers visited the town when a three-day literary festival was held here in 1938, in which Nirala, Harivansh Rai Bachchan, Yashpal, Ramchandra Shukla, Shivmangal Singh 'Suman', Purushottam Das Tondon and many others participated.
After independence, Aparna, an organisation, was formed in 1981 under the guidance of Amin-ud-din-Ahmad Khan, who was then the Governor of Himachal Pradesh. It organised a two-day literary festival in the same year, which was attended by 60 litterateurs, including Ganga Prasad Vimal, Dr Vinay, Jagdish Chaturvedi, Prayag Shukla, Sanjeev, Manish Rai, Shivmurthi, Divik Ramesh, Abdul Bismillah, Jagmohan Chopra, Shyam Kashyap, Sunder Lohia and Prem Janmejay.
'Aparna' was soon dissolved to take shape of 'Shikhar', an organisation headed by Maharaj Krishan Kaw, a litterateur-cum-secretary to the Government of Himachal and later to India.
It brought out its first journal named 'Shikhar' in 1983, which was a non-periodical magazine. So far, its editor Keshav Narain, who is stationed at Palampur these days, has brought out 19 issues of this magazine. Shikhar, too, organised a big literary festival at Shimla in 1984-85, in which Jainendra, Govind Mishra, Kalias, Balram and many others participated. Shikhar also decided to honour a senior or junior littérateur for its contribution to literature. Kamaleshwar was selected among the seniors and he was honoured by the then Chief Minister, Virbhadra Singh, at Delhi in 2005. He was the only among the seniors to be awarded besides Sunder Lohia, who was given the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016. The 'Yuva Shikhar Sahitya Samman' covers best literary works from all over India, not just Himachal Pradesh. Those Himachali writers, who have bagged this award, are Atma Ranjan for poetry in 2010 and Murari Sharma for stories in 2016. The others are Bharat Prasad for criticism in 2011, Hari Prakash Upadhyay for novel in 2013, Arun Sitansh for poetry in 2013, Vivek Mishra for story-writing in 2015 and Gauri Nath for stories in 2017.
Shikhar is alive today under president Dinesh Malhotra, secretary to the Government of Himachal Pradesh, but the live force is definitely Keshav Narain, who does the entire spadework himself.
Vinod Vitthal touches 'suffocating truth'
The award for 2018 went in favour of Vinod Vitthal for his poetry book 'Prithvi par dikhi Paati'. Vinod was born on April 10, 1970, at Jodhpur. He is a postgraduate in commerce and journalism and mass communication. Having served in the radio, TV and Hindustan Times, he, at present, is in the corporate affairs department of Jindal South West (JSW), which has taken over the work of Karcham-Wangtoo hydroelectric project at Kinnaur from JayPee. He is posted at a small village Chholtu of Kinnaur district. About the village, he writes: "Yahan nahin aate hain koi akhbaar/ Na yeh jaataa hai akhbaar tak/ Yahin aakar pataa chalti hai/ Kitni achhi hoti hai akhbaar se doori."
Keshav Narain, an outstanding poet himself, says: "Vinod Vitthal is a poet of imageries like that of Octavio Paz and Shamsher Bahadur. The imagery of Paz is abstract. It is hard to accomplish the desired result after using abstract imagery and because Paz could make the communicability possible even after that, he is a great poet. The imagery of Vinod is concrete, so it is common, to the point and precious. I am not comparing Vinod with Paz or Shamsher, but the reason for which the two latter ones are known, the former is following those footsteps. But he has to travel a lot and it is hidden in the womb of future as to where Vinod reaches."
Vinod's poems touch the suffocating truth. He says: "The time is of babas, of religious frenzy, castes, mob-lynching, khap- panchayats, free data, WhatsApp, Facebook, reality shows on TVs, news channels, everybody has its own channel and lots of transmission and publication. Still, it is the most unreported time. We are passing through a critical time. Artificial intelligence and data has not only uprooted us, but we are also becoming more lonely, afraid and helpless than any other time. If I say straight, today's man has been hacked."
At the age of 48, which is 80 per cent of life lived, Vinod says: "Use apni hi puraani tasveeren dekhte hue dar lagtaa hai/ motapa ghis deta hai naak-naksh/ zindagi ke thapere uraa le jaatein hain atmavishwas.”
"His poems are not only of depression, but lines here and there show bright light, e.g., he defines a true friend as "achhe dost/ upekshaa aur laaparvaahi ke baavajood/ chhaaton aur sweataron ki tarah/ bure mausamon mein saath dete hain." When he begot a daughter called Paati, he joyously said: "Mujhe nayi baansuri do, hawaa ne kahaa hogaa/ Tabhi ek naye vadya yantra ki tarah/ Prithvi par dikhi Paati."
"Today neither the eyes see, nor the mouth speaks. The ears hear only that, which the bazaar says," Vinod Vitthal